“I just want to check that box.” That’s how John put his desire to go to Disneyland. He’d gone as a kid and believed it to be a sort of childhood rite of passage, something everyone should experience before growing up. It didn’t necessarily seem like his own memories of being there were particularly idyllic, but he clearly felt like it was our duty as parents to take the boys before they got too much older.

I didn’t have the same perspective, although I remember being delighted by Disney World about a million years ago when I went with my mom. My thinking was that my own kids didn’t really grow up on Disney the way I did, so the charm would largely be lost on them. They’re scared of most big rides, John hates waiting in lines, and I have a deep-seated dislike of anything mascot-related. Plus, why would we choose a wildly expensive and crowded crapshoot of a venue when we could save our vacation dollars for a trip to somewhere I know we love, like Hawaii?

He got me convinced, though, or at least willing to see if that box was in fact worth checking, and so we made our plans for spring break. I booked a hotel (the Hyatt House), I bought the tickets (3-day park hoppers with Max Pass), I delved into blogs and websites and crowdsourced suggestions and spent entirely too many days dithering over what sort of bag I should wear (Large or small? Backpack or cross-shoulder? I ended up with this one, which was quite comfortable and held what I needed).

The night before we were scheduled to leave, I was in the backyard with Riley when I noticed he was shivering from head to toe. “It’s freezing out here,” he said through chattering teeth. “Why is it so COLD all of a sudden?”

I narrowed my eyes. 60 degrees and the kid who refused to wear a coat when we got a foot of snow in February is too chilly? Hmmmm.

Of course it turned out that he had influenza, so our trip was delayed while he recovered and all four of us tossed back hastily-procured blister packs of Tamiflu and crossed our fingers, but eventually, after many hours of driving through the dreamy Windows XP wallpaper scenery of southern California, we arrived.

On our first morning I took the advice of many and rousted us out of bed distressingly early in order to get to bag check security a full hour before opening (which was a plan we mostly followed the whole time and I wholeheartedly recommend). We goggled at the throngs and aimed ourselves at Space Mountain and nearly crowdsurfed the surge once the music filled the air and the rope dropped.

Oh, the crowds! Intense even early in the morning, multiplied into staggering numbers by the afternoon. Great colorful swells of people, rippling along in patterns like murmurations, surprisingly never hugely frustrating except when a stroller would collide with the back of my Achilles. So many children, so many families. Many wearing Instagram-ready Disney-themed outfits with red-and-white polka dot manicures, others in delightfully dorky matching t-shirts.

(I’m not sure how to say this without sounding as if I am the kind of privileged who is obnoxiously oblivious of their privilege, but I’m going to forge ahead: I found there to be something profoundly reassuring about being immersed in humanity this way. Now, I get that Disneyland, by its very nature, is limited to those who can get there, pay for the experience, and physically maneuver an exhausting amount of shlepping around — but it IS a crowd of, what, over 40,000 people each day? And I’m sure there is plenty of bad behavior, but what I saw were a whole shitload of folks who were happy to be there, or at least grinning and bearing it, and it was a reminder that we aren’t always at odds with one another. We are living in some pretty sad and difficult times and maybe I just need to strike up more conversations with my fellow line-dwellers to feel a tiny bit more hopeful.)

We started with Space Mountain, as we did every day after that. During the first day the kids were initially nervous about most rides and it required every bit of courage on their part to get on the Incredicoaster, but as soon as things got underway we were collectively blown away. Disneyland rides are so good, you guys. Some of them are thrilling, some are immersive, some are simply deeply insane and endless in length and should be experienced exactly once so we can all turn to each other at some point in our lives and say, “So … It’s a Small World. THAT was fucked up.”

Our favorites were the Indiana Jones ride and Guardians of the Galaxy, both of which we rode multiple times. Incredicoaster has the worst line of all but we still endured it three times, because it’s legit worth it. Dylan disliked the Matterhorn because of the presence of an animatronic Yeti, and both kids were so traumatized by the huge Ferris wheel with the sliding cars I almost had to stop laughing at them long enough to make sure they were okay.

The rides were absolutely worth the price of entry, but what I really loved about this vacation was how much time we spent together. Walking, waiting, hunched over cinnamon-dusted churros: we were in such good spirits. Even during some of the more tedious line-standing moments, we did so much laughing and talking.

We made constant use of the FastPass system, which I highly recommend even though it was kind of annoying: I felt like we had to keep looking at the app and fighting against the occasional glitch where it wouldn’t load properly. The whole FastPass thing is what our schedule revolved around, we’d get a pass for a popular ride then fill the time beforehand with a smaller ride.

There were the moments of frustration that come with any family trip, but my memory is already glossing right over the bumpy parts to the magic. In my mind, Disneyland is forever lit by late-afternoon California sunlight, a melting golden glow filled with bubbles from children’s wands. It’s happy shrieks and full-bodied laughter, delicious sugary treats and friendly smiles, giddy anticipation and the ahhhh of taking off your shoes at the end of the night.

I do not know what sorcery keeps Disney so clean, except of course plenty of well-trained employees, but the place is spotless. Even the bathrooms. Every cast member was incredibly nice and appeared out of nowhere whenever I was trying to take a family picture so I could be included in the shot.

There truly is something magical about it. I know a giant theme park isn’t for everyone, but boy, I’m a full-on believer now.

On our last night, we were waiting for an evening show to get underway. Everyone was huddled on the pavement, tired kids leaning against parents. Behind us, two little girls were skipping back and forth with their bubble wands. The air was filled with these iridescent spheres, color and lights dancing across the delicate surfaces, and the girls were laughing and dancing. They became silhouettes in the approaching darkness and it was just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

In the end, I am so grateful to John for championing this trip. The box has been checked, and it came with a million wonderful memories and countless reminders of how much I love our family. We had the very best time, and I think we chose the ideal age for our kids. I hope we go back sometime, but even if we don’t, it was enough.

Honestly, it was perfect.


21 Responses to “The happiest place”

  1. MA on April 5th, 2019 2:36 pm

    Ahhh, Linda — you do Disneyland a true service by how beautifully you write about it. I have a big grin on my face just from reading this. You and your family look fantastic — the boys are truly growing into handsome young men, and you and John, well, just cut it out, wouldja?! I’m so glad you guys had such a great time — it makes me want to go. And, you know, run into you in line. Because It’s a Small World truly IS about as obnoxious as it gets. <3 <3

  2. Trina on April 5th, 2019 2:38 pm

    This!!!!! This is why we go every couple of years. We love Hawaii and lots of other amazing vacation destinations around the USA but there is something about Disneyland. We probably won’t go again for at least 5 years (my oldest 2 are the exact same ages as your kids) because we have a 3 year old now and after taking the older ones a few times we learned that 7-8 years old, for us, is the minimum age we are willing to spend that kind of money on a trip. Our kids before that age don’t remember it and while they enjoyed some of it, really didn’t enjoy it that much. The magic is real though. Even my very skeptical, hates large crowds (and people in general), not a small man, husband secretly loves it. He had never been to Disneyland (or any Disney Park) prior to taking our kids the first time.

    I am so happy you all had a great time at one of my happiest places. Even if you don’t go again, the memories and time together as a family are so worth even the one trip.

  3. Kim on April 5th, 2019 2:40 pm

    Having grown up not far from Orlando, I am a big Disney dork from way back. And while my tolerance for crowds has gotten smaller, there’s just something MAGICAL (sorry) about the place that I’ve never experienced at any other amusement park. This just reminded me it’s getting to be that time to go once again.

  4. Mark Mouser on April 5th, 2019 3:20 pm

    One of my employees (now a military trained Arabic linguist spent a semester in college working at Disney World. He was one of those folks who carry a broom and sweep up. He has a few awesome stories about being fined for not wearing proper uniform….including the socks they laundered and gave back to you. He just refused to wear the sox…

  5. Laura Buechler on April 5th, 2019 3:51 pm

    So awesome! We are in the midst of planning our Disney trip for this Halloween (we all LOVE The Nightmare Before Christmas, so Halloween aesthetic is our jam!). I hope our trip is as wonderful as yours!

  6. Maureen on April 5th, 2019 3:57 pm

    I’m so happy you all had a great time!! We’ve been really big Disney theme park fans since our first family trip to WDW in Florida when my daughter was 4 in 1998.

    I totally agree, the parks aren’t for everyone-but we have had so many moments of magic during our trips! Family magic, and family memories that we all cherish. That full on, immersive experience-where like you said, you are all together has been wonderful for us. In WDW, the Fastpass system seems to be easier, you can make your FP reservations before you go. I’m not sure DL has caught up with that. We love it so much that we became Disney Vacation Club members!

    We make a “no negativity” pact at the beginning of each trip-we are Alaskans so we know that Florida is going to be hot for us, and sometimes it will be crowded-but if someone starts to complain the other two will say “no negativity!” and we get back on track. Funny thing is we just started going to DL in the last 6 years, it is so convenient for us, we can get a nonstop flight from Anchorage to LAX. I love the history of DL and how manageable it is, we can go for less than a week and feel like we did our trip justice.

    I’ll stop now, but I totally understand those moments you described-where something looks so incredibly beautiful, and you are just blown away. I think it is the beauty of human connection, instead of pure natural beauty-and I am glad to have been able to enjoy it for over 20 years.

  7. Kate B on April 5th, 2019 4:19 pm

    This looks fantastic. WDW family who will be making our first trip to Disneyland this summer. Did you like your hotel? Was there a shuttle to the parks?

  8. Cobwebs on April 5th, 2019 5:20 pm

    I worked for the Mouse for seven years, and Disney is *fanatical* about the guest experience. They do a spectacular job of immersion.

  9. Erin on April 5th, 2019 5:48 pm

    Dang it. You made me tear up. 🍀

  10. Valria on April 5th, 2019 5:48 pm


    What a beautiful post. What a beautiful family. The boys are so big and I feel like I know you through your blog for so long. (more than just sitting Ashley a couple times).

    Now that I’m living in LA and have never been I can shed some light on the maintenance at Disney.

    The landscape crew and cleaning crew work midnight to 8 a.m. Even on days where they are transplanting every plant on main street for a new theme it is all done overnight and every speck of debris and tools and dirt are gone by opening. We know a couple people who work that shift and they love their Disney jobs.

    What a beautiful vacation. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Chris on April 5th, 2019 6:21 pm

    This legit made me tear up. It sounds so magical! I went in college, but my husband has never been. This is definitely a dream vacay for us and I pray we can afford it someday. Thank you for writing about how much fun your boys had at their age. It feels like we have to take our kids when they are small but this gives me hope that they will still love it by the time we’re able to go.

  12. dani on April 5th, 2019 11:16 pm

    this makes me so, so happy. it’s exactly how I feel. all of it. from the crowds of humanity (I love how even the biggest, toughest looking dude in the place will not even blink an eye at wearing matching minnie mouse shirts) to glossing over the occasional moments of frustration.

    it’s weird and cheesy to say, but I’ve had moments of beauty and joy just like the ones you described at disneyland, and it has made me so GRATEFUL. grateful for my family and being happy together. grateful for this life. it’s really that simple.

  13. Lori Saczynski on April 6th, 2019 8:25 am

    Love this post! So glad you guys had a great experience there. I have not been to Disneyland yet, but we have Disney World annual passes. It never gets old. You really feel like you’re in another world.

  14. Andrea on April 6th, 2019 10:21 am

    Nobody does Disney like Disney. I was 21 the first time I went. I was of the mindset that if I was in California, and even close to it, I should go. I fell in love. No one does Disney like Disney. I have a friend who worked for Disney for several years, as a cast member in the park, and as a cast member at the Disneyland Hotel. Oh, the stories she tells…Disney REALLY focuses on the magic. I took my kids when they were very young because *I* was the one who wanted to go. As they got older they appreciated it so much more.

  15. Alexa on April 7th, 2019 8:25 pm

    Looked like a wonderful time at Disney. I wanted to let you know one of your older photos of you and one of your sons was on this webpage. I don’t know if you know, or if they have the rights to the pic but it was random and I wanted to share it with you. I’ve been reading your blog for years and years and really enjoy your writing. My girls are the same age as your boys and it’s crazy they’re all so old now. Anyway pic is at the tail end. You’re in a red shirt, baby is grabbing your boob. https://twentytwowords.com/pics-that-prove-you-should-really-check-your-background-before-taking-that-selfie/?utm_source=facebook-bj&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=bj-23843301787360716&utm_content=Selfie+Reflections+3+-+R10%3E1.5+-+MF+18-65+Android

  16. Shawna on April 8th, 2019 12:54 pm

    My Granny took my sister and I to Florida 3x as kids and we went to a couple of different Disney parks. She always said they were her favourite trips of her well-travelled life, so now that she’s passed, I want to take a small handful of her ashes down to scatter somewhere appropriate. I think we’ll try to work in a trip to Disney with our kids at the same time to pass on the magic she shared with us.

  17. Donna on April 8th, 2019 8:00 pm

    Riley is as tall as you are……HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE…..??! (I’m suddenly feeling old!)

  18. Pat on April 9th, 2019 10:50 am

    I LOVE this post so much and for so many reasons. You write so beautifully, I’m thrilled to see the happiness in your family, you look gorgeous and healthy…! In 2001, when I was a single mom I took my 4 kids to Disney. I was running the marathon and saved for about 2 years, a little each month for this trip. We only had 2 days at Disney but it was spectacular! I remember being blown away by the quality, excellence and cleanliness. I actually recall thinking – ah, this is why it’s so costly – this kind of perfection costs $$$! My goal now is to take our grandchildren as the youngest in each family gets to about 7 years old. And yes – your boys are so grown up & tall!!

  19. Allison on April 9th, 2019 1:49 pm

    I’m so glad you guys had such a great time! I normally eschew anything Disney (not sure why, it’s just not my jam)… but when we took our boys back in 2013 we had so much fun, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get teary and fuhklempt when I met Minnie mouse. :) I marveled at what a smooth running machine Disney is. I never noticed people cleaning, though they probably were. Everyone was in such a good mood, and it was truly magical. So much so that we are headed back there to spend New Year’s at Disney. I wanted to ‘check that box’ at least one more time before they are grown. We got to experience it when the magic was mindboggling … my youngest was 7 when we went last and I remember him asking me in the little mermaid ride “mama, is dis real life?” it’s going to be great to experience it with them as young teens. And who knows, maybe we’ll go back again when they are grown! lol, so glad you guys had a great trip!

  20. Alex on April 10th, 2019 3:43 pm

    This made me cry a little bit, in a happy way.

  21. Katie on September 4th, 2019 5:57 pm

    We did this trip this summer, too. (Took your suggestion of Hyatt House-thank you!) Our kids are 15 and 11, and yes, it was the perfect time. My husband is the planner and did such a great job. You are right, so many good conversations standing in line, people watching, talking about what we all liked (or didn’t). We were lucky with weather and barely any crowd to speak of, so such a great trip all around. The guy wearing the shirt that said “Most expensive day ever!” was right, but worth every penny. I get the sense that you and I are similar in that we’ve loved each stage of our kids growing up, but man this stage is so fun.

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